In wake of town hall, Burns files bipartisan legislation seeking justice, protections for childhood sexual abuse victims

EBENSBURG, Sept. 19 – Inspired by an overwhelmingly positive response at a town hall meeting earlier this week in Johnstown, Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, moved swiftly Wednesday to introduce legislation calling for a nationwide investigation into the Roman Catholic Church and providing further protections for victims of childhood sexual abuse.

“I was deeply moved by the brave victims of past abuse who attended the town hall earlier this week hosted by Representative Mark Rozzi and myself,” Burns said. “Their stories and the outpouring of support from the public underline the urgency of my fight to ensure that all childhood sexual abuse victims -- no matter where they may reside -- have an opportunity to seek justice.”

Burns’ legislative package, which has broad bipartisan support, includes a resolution (H.R. 1072) that calls upon the U.S. attorney general to launch a nationwide investigation of the church, similar to the recently completed investigation by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

“It has become clear that the heinous abuse documented in Pennsylvania is not a phenomena that is limited to one city, one diocese or even one state,” Burns said. “It is also clear that elected officials may not have the political will or legal wherewithal to undertake an investigation of this magnitude. I believe that federal prosecutors can and are the ones best equipped to shine the light of this investigation into every dark corner of the Catholic Church.”          

Additionally, Burns introduced two bills, the first of which would make it clear in non-disclosure agreements that the settlement does not prevent victims from sharing the facts of their abuse with police (H.B. 2561). The second would allow victims of child sexual abuse to disclose details of their case in civil proceedings as well as criminal cases (H.B. 2562).

“The recent state-wide grand jury report described a ‘playbook for concealing the truth’ employed by the church, which included secret agreements aimed at silencing victims,” Burns said. “Many victims also did not know their rights nor the limits of these agreements. I want to make it abundantly clear to everyone that nothing should stop a victim of childhood sexual abuse from ensuring their voice is heard, nor impinge upon their ability to seek justice for the crimes committed against them.”  

Burns’ legislation is expected to be referred to the House Judiciary Committee for review.